Sodikin, a 34-year-old man with a psychosocial disability, at his workplace. Sodikin, who was shackled for more than eight years in a tiny shed outside the family home in Cianjur, West Java, now works in a clothing factory stitching buttons onto boys’ school uniforms. 

© 2018 Andrea Star Reese for Human Rights Watch
Authorities in Indonesia have taken an important step to uphold the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities (mental health conditions) across the country.

A number of national agencies, including the National Human Rights Commission, National Commission for Violence Against Women, National Commission for Child Protection, the Ombudsman, and the Witness and Victims Protection Agency, have signed an agreement to monitor places where people with psychosocial disabilities have been shackled or detained. These include traditional faith healing centers, social care institutions, and mental health facilities.

Despite a 1977 government ban, families, traditional healers, and staff in institutions continue to shackle people with psychosocial disabilities, in some cases for years. Due to prevalent stigma and inadequate support services, including mental health care, more than 57,000 Indonesians with psychosocial disabilities have been chained or locked in a confined space at least once in their lives.

In close partnership with disability rights advocates such as Yeni Rosa Damayanti, chairperson of the Indonesian Mental Health Association, Human Rights Watch has been calling for an end to shackling and for independent monitoring of institutions.

In 2016, Human Rights Watch published a report that documented people with psychosocial disabilities being chained or locked up in overcrowded and unsanitary institutions, without their consent, where they face physical and sexual abuse, and involuntary treatment including electroconvulsive therapy, forced seclusion, restraint, and forced contraception.

Following the report’s release, the Indonesian government took a number of steps to help people access mental health services and to stop shackling. As a result, the number of people chained or locked up in confined spaces dropped from nearly 18,800, the last reported figure, to 12,800 in July 2018, according to Indonesian government data.

Indonesia’s government has also been integrating mental health services into a community health outreach program, which has so far reached 30 million households across the country. The government has also carried out awareness-raising activities, trained staff, and provided medication in more than 6,000 community health centers. It has pledged to reach all 9,900 centers by the end of 2019.

The new agreement provides for regular and independent monitoring of government and private institutions for people with psychosocial disabilities. A woman with a psychosocial disability locked up in Yayasan Galuh Rehabilitation Center, a privately run institution on the outskirts of Jakarta, told Human Rights Watch: “I have been chained here three times. I got hit by the staff and was handcuffed for one whole week. I couldn’t even go to the toilet – I had to pee there, in my clothes.”

We ultimately want Indonesia’s government to support people with psychosocial disabilities to live independently in the community, instead of warehousing them in institutions. Until then, authorities should take action against abusive facilities, regulate private institutions, and make sure people with disabilities are treated with dignity and that their rights are respected.